“La Mama” sells half a million euros worth of soup per year. Romanians ordered over 100,000 portions in 2023

The chain of restaurants “La Mama” last year had a 15% increase in turnover, compared to 2022. Cătălin Mahu, the owner of the chain, has plans to expand with two, three more locations in 2024, in which he wants to invest two millions of euros. The soup was the best-selling dish in the network in 2023, with orders worth 500,000 euros. Restaurants sell an average of 300 servings per day, which is more than 100,000 soups annually.

“Although it is not spectacular, we have a healthy and steady growth. We focus on retaining existing customers and attracting new customers. Our prices have increased less than those of the raw material. Let’s not forget that the price of oil went from three lei to nine lei. We in the restaurant industry have had to act as a buffer between these increases and customers. In our chain we change prices twice a year. If I set them in March, I didn’t touch them until September, no matter what happened. During this period, we increased them between 20 and 40%,” said Cătălin Mahu, the owner of the “La Mama” restaurant chain.

Soups, papanas and sarmales are the best-selling products in the network. On average, customers order 300 soups a day, between 200 and 300 papanasi and 100 portions of sarmals. In the chain’s restaurants, the ingredients used are chosen to have as few Es as possible.

“Today in the “La Mama” menu there are among the fewest E’s in Bucharest and I take what I say. We have fish snacks without Es, 80% chicken raised on the ground”, said Cătălin Mahu.

Three new “La Mama” restaurants in 2024

La Mama ended 2023 with a 15% higher turnover compared to the previous year. This performance opens up the prospect for new locations. The last “La Mama” restaurant was inaugurated in 2019, and for 2024 the plan is to add two or even three units to the portfolio. As for the necessary personnel, Cătălin Mahu has a solution of his own. It does not want to hire labor from outside the country, only in isolated cases.

“If we don’t give chances to the workforce in Romania, they will leave and we will complain that they are leaving. We have to give opportunities and be attractive to those who are thinking of going abroad. For the new locations we are about to open, we will need approximately 100 employees. For this, we collaborate with the Vocational Schools and we also hire people with disabilities, because we have to give back to the community the good we receive”, said the entrepreneur.

The pandemic years have put a lot of pressure on the HoReCa industry, from the lack of customers to the increase in raw material prices, restaurants have suffered a lot. Despite the endless chain of price hikes, the owner of “La Mama” felt that he had to find a balance and fair prices for customers. This is where the measures taken by the state for the HoReCa field are far too few. In the view of the entrepreneur, the best measures the state took for the sector were the reduction of VAT to 5% on food and the reduction of the tax on dividends to 5%.

“In 2002, these measures helped me to open the restaurant at Ateneu. They seemed to me to be the best incentive”, added Cătălin Mahu.

The HoReCa industry in Romania is growing, its potential not yet being reached, if we look at other European countries.

“All over Romania there are over 30 thousand units that sell food, and here we also include bars or pretzel shops. In London, for example, there are over a million units. The restaurant market in Romania is still in its infancy. We should cook less and eat more in the city, but we are not yet ready to have this convenience. Until we manage to come out with the constancy with which the westerners do it, we have little left. We have fewer tourists than other European capitals and we know how much tourism brings in food revenue”, said Cătălin Mahu.

The first “La Mama” restaurant was opened 25 years ago, in the Ștefan cel Mare neighborhood, in the presence of friends. The first dishes on the menu were the small ones and the fried potatoes. Even though it only had 50 seats, it was full from the second day of opening. Today, the chain has six restaurants in Bucharest.

“La Mama” partners are Carlsberg, Selgros, Macromex, Agricola, Radic star, Rasfat, Cotnari Casa de vinuri, Gurmet, FPIOR, Marathon, Mirdatod, Conti grup and Licorna winehouse.